JUNE 6, 2009 7:15PM

White Men Grounds-Keeping on Mexico Road

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Last Friday I ran an errand to a doctor's office along Mexico Road in St. Charles County, Missouri—a road with which I have been well-acquainted since my family first moved to the area in 1987. Only  back then, Mexico was just a road, two lanes, unimpressive, dirt in some places, until the mid-1990s, when its girth suddenly doubled to accommodate the influx of Missourians demanding a timely, semi-parallel alternative to Highway 40 for necessary outings to-and-from Family Video, Art's Produce, the Rec-Plex, and other fine American institutions of higher-learning.

But last Friday there was something remarkably different about Mexico Road as I have always known it, as I observed that the men working along the roadside atop standing lawnmowers, over shovels and rakes, and beside weed-eaters, were not Mexican or El Salvadoran. They were white men, Missourians.

I wondered then and wonder still what happened to the Latinos.  My gut tells me they haven't moved upward, and my experience tells me the American Way offers little downward mobility to its grounds-keeping dregs. But if they haven't moved upward or downward, have they moved onward? Or are they still here, stubbornly gazing out through the cracks in the Missouri pavement, recalculating their great Central American Dream of a better way of life that brought them to this country in the first place?


I arrived at the doctor's office and told the attendant that I was there for the paperwork. She nodded her understanding and the small, gold crucifix on her tiny, gold necklace bobbed once beneath her chins.

Over her shoulder were five of her coworkers tending a backdrop of file cabinets overflowing with patient charts. I was once employed hauling endless boxes of these charts between storage facilities in the infernal heat of the St. Louis Dog Days of Summer. Careful records must be kept in the era of frivolous and not-so-frivolous lawsuits.

But what happens when the charts go digital, and five plump Missouri soccer moms are reduced to one with a high-proficiency in some overpriced medical version of the Amazon Kindle that can draw from a national database of patient charts stored securely in great The Information Cloud? How will the national economy employ the ongoing Google Revolution's collateral damages?


On my way back I pulled into one of the drive-thru lanes at McDonald's and ordered two McDoubles with no pickles for $2.15, which was only recently $2.10, before it became $2.12. On NPR, a scientist talked about how the Japanese don't differentiate between "L" and "R" sounds, and the man at the second window who gave me my food did so with the enthusiasm once-celebrated only in scripted fast food commercials on television.

For years, the McDonald's on Mexico Road was an affordable dump where consumer backtalk risked a cashier's sneer and parolee angst between the sesame seed buns. But last Friday, it was service with a smile in the second window at Mickey D's, and I wondered if the man handing me my McDoubles was of the army of economic refugees from the recent cataclysmic tragedies at the area's Chrysler and GM plants, but I didn't ask, because some questions only serve to shame good people.

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Well done. It's one thing to read about economic displacement in the abstract. It's another to meet the actual "refugee." Thanks for this post.
Great writing, Pablo. I especially love the last line and look forward to reading more from you.
i love the way you've captured the way post-economic collapse america feels at the ground-level, at the level of people i can relate to. and like you i've been wondering where the latino workers i used to always see around here have gone; i worry about them no less than i do the other working class people who've been slammed by the meltdown.
This is a good trip through the economic troubles.
(you never stopped seeing white men do groundskeeping here, but a few Latinos were doing it, too, for a while....)
From Chile to Missouri. That must have been some serious culture shock. I really enjoyed your post--very thoughtful observations. I live in Los Angeles and am also noticing changes in the employment landscape. Interesting times. I hope the people who move on do so toward better lives. But like I said, I live in L.A. so I'm not that naive. But since I'm not...I'll be cautiously optimistic.
Yes, well done. If you read about Phoenix, most of the hispanics were sent packing. I wonder if this happened in Missouri also. Funny, here in the midwest, many come back in the summer to work as carpenters and for farmers. This economy isn't good for anyone.
Thanks all! I'm thinking my posts are about to get very much better.